I was thinking about my brother the other day. I wonder sometimes in those last days of his life what thoughts were going through his head, if he was in pain, if he knew he was in trouble. I wonder if he knew he was teetering on the brink of dying and whether he was OK with that or if he would have wanted more time to change things. I prefer to cling to the latter notion.
I don't believe he was living the life he envisioned himself having, not by any means. That's the thought that inevitably leads me to the rabbit hole, the endless conundrum of the probability of any one person ever fully achieving self-expression versus the actual necessity of this occuring.
Bloom where you're planted. Be happy in the shoes you're in. Success is the path, not the destination. I want to believe these things - and in many ways I do believe these things - but I also believe that these are things we are taught to make us feel better about being forced into lives many of us have no viable option of escaping. We gratify our need for expression and validation by telling ourselves - and asking others to confirm it for us - that we're OK.
Its a beautiful, terrible thing, the human condition. The ability of this world we've constructed to continue functioning, like the Matrix, relies on our inability to slow down and think too very hard about these things. You can't grease the wheels of society if you are busy throwing aside convention to follow your dream or die trying. It doesn't take too much imagination to believe that there are forces at play in our world that depend on this, on the natural tendency of tired, overwhelmed people to smooth over the wrinkles between reality and their sense of how things ought to be.
Tradition tells you to keep your nose to the grindstone, that life isn't fair and that conformity is essential for the majority. We can't be all airy-fairily gallivanting off to chase our dreams. Someone has to stay home and keep the lights on. And so we make the sacrifices, pluck our dreams apart brick by brick until they are small enough to fit the lives we're living instead of changing our lives to fit our dreams.
And I don't know whether it is right or wrong - or if those words can really be applied - to follow one path or the other.
Some of us tread the middle, and maybe we're okay with it, even more happy than not about it. We all know people who are desperate to unhook the yoke and can't - or won't - because they didn't realize their dreams until too late and they don't know how to untangle from the obligations they've created, or they lack the resources to step out of the life they're in to find the one they want. I would guess that's probably the case for most people. And I would also guess that many people spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves and everyone else that no, they really are doing just what they want, even if inside them the dreams they once held shrivel up into nothing.
I wonder what Ken's dreams were, the ones he held inside and was never able to nurture into reality. I wonder where his tipping points were and what he felt about them.
Do we get a medal for being brave enough to learn to be happy with the life we have even if it isn't the one we wanted?
You know, I don't know what I really wanted to be in life. Mostly I just wanted to be an adult (and its questionable whether I yet qualify). I feel that I've spent a lot of my life mostly living in the moment and coping with the results. Like everyone else I wanted to be famous. If pushed - very hard - I could tell you that I wanted to sing for a living, but when no one ever came leaping out of the wings to offer to make me the next radio star, I suspected it wasn't really an option. I always considered my horses to be a hobby, and it wasn't until the last few years I've wondered why I didn't think of them as a possible career. Sure, I wouldn't have ever been rich, but I'm not rich now anyway.
No, like most of the rest of the human race, I fell into a job that turned into a career and I've worked as hard as I needed to get where I've gotten and if I'd worked harder or been smarter I might have made if further by now but I'm not sure I really care.
Don't get me wrong -- my life is really pretty great. There are areas that could definitely use some improvement, and whether I want to admit it or not, I can see the places where I've painted myself into corners. They aren't forever corners, not a one of them. They are the obstacles I've chosen and I can either let them stop me or I can let them motivate me to do things differently in the future.
I imagine I will spend the rest of my life trying to identify the things I really want to do and trying to find ways to do more of those things before I'm too old to enjoy them. And that's OK, and I don't necessarily think its sad in the context of my own life until I recognize the places I see it in the lives of others. My brother didn't live long enough to start finding the ways to make his inner self become real again. That's at least as tragic as the fact that the person he was supposed to be got lost in the first place.
Ken is the poster child for those of us whom circumstance dictated a life other than the one we would have chosen for ourselves. Too many people don't have the resources or the support to self-actualize, to do anything more than try to survive, and just thinking that makes me start to feel a sense of panic, because I know deep down inside that we're meant to be and do more than just survive.
I could spend my time wishing things were different, but I suspect, rightly, that my efforts are better spent doing things to change the equation for myself, for those I love.